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MSUNDUZI Municipality is to cut off power and water supply to errant government departments in a bid to recover over R1 billion owed in unpaid service bills.
This came out at the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) meeting yesterday, where it was revealed that government departments owed Msunduzi R84 million.
The provincial departments of Health, Human Settlement and Education were singled out as the main culprits — owing the council a combined R38 million.
The report tabled at MPAC also revealed that the municipality was owed more than R1 billion in total.
Residents owed the council R711 million and local businesses R226 million.
Municipal chief financial officer Nelisiwe Ngcobo told the committee that they had written letters to the departments that were in arrears to make good on their debts.
Ngcobo said some departments queried their debts, “so the only way to recover our money is to shut down all the services which include water and electricity so that whoever owes us will come forward and make arrangements”.
She said the provincial Department of Public Works responded to the first letters by paying R25 million, but the national department of public works was still owing the municipality a lot.
She said: “We won’t shut down hospitals because of the critical work done there, but we are going to shut down services at schools, but we will wait for pupils to finish their exams.”
ANC councillor Sipho Madonda said he was alarmed by the R1 billion figure and asked if this was due to staff shortages.
“Is it true that the finance department has staff shortages of about 117 positions?” he asked.
Ngcobo said that they were working on filling critical positions and also needed to finalise the implementation of the credit control policy.
Ngcobo told The Witness that they would be disconnecting businesses next and then residents.
MPAC chairperson Mike Tarr said that the shortages were crippling service delivery.
“We need to have meter readers and fill the critical positions in all business units in order for the municipality to be effective in its work,” he said.
Tarr said that he would meet with the MEC for provincial Treasury Ina Cronjé next week to ask if she could make payments on behalf of the errant departments and then claim it back.
DA Chief Whip Roger Ashe told the committee that he has been calling for services to be shut down since the municipality was placed under administration two years ago.
“This should have been done a long time ago,” he said.
IFP caucus leader Dolo Zondi said if the municipality needed to use the bylaws to enforce payment then they should go ahead and cut off services without any exception.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said they were aware of this matter and needed to find “an amicable solution to this problem”.
KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlement spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi said there were ongoing engagements with the municipality, however, as far as the department was concerned, they were up-to-date with their payments. “We are querying some of the amounts which are in dispute, but in the spirit of inter-governmental relations we hope this matter will be resolved,” he said.
The head of the Department of Health, Dr Sibongile Zungu said: “As far as I am concerned the department does not owe the municipality.”
KZN Treasury spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said they would not comment on individual departments. “If there are departments that have not paid on time then the municipality knows the procedure on how to involve treasury in terms of Operation Pay on Time,” he said.